"WHERE IS LARS NELLE'S JOURNAL?" DE ROQUEFORT ASKED.
Still in the grasp of the two men, Peter Hansen stared up at him. He knew Hansen had once been closely associated with Lars Nelle. When he'd discovered that Stephanie Nelle was coming to Denmark to attend the Roskilde auction, he'd surmised that she might contact Peter Hansen. Which was why he'd approached the book dealer first.
"Surely Stephanie Nelle mentioned her husband's journal?"
Hansen shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"When Lars Nelle was alive, did he mention that he kept a journal?"
"Do you understand your situation? Nothing I wanted has occurred and, worse, you deceived me."
"I know that Lars kept meticulous notes." Resignation filled Hansen's voice.
"Tell me more."
Hansen seemed to steel himself. "When I'm released."
De Roquefort allowed the fool a victory. He motioned and his men released their hold. Hansen quickly gulped a deep swallow of beer, then tabled the mug. "Lars wrote lots of books about Rennes-le-Chateau. All that stuff about lost parchments, hidden geometry, and puzzles made for great sales." Hansen seemed to catch hold of himself. "He alluded to every treasure he could imagine. Visigoth gold, Templar wealth, Cathar loot. Take a thread and weave a blanket, that's what he used to say."
De Roquefort knew all about Rennes-le-Chateau, a tiny hamlet in southern France that had existed since Roman times. A priest in the latter part of the nineteenth century spent enormous sums of money remodeling the local church. Decades later, rumors started that the priest financed the decorations with a great treasure he'd found. Lars Nelle learned of the intriguing place thirty years ago and wrote a book about the tale, which became an international bestseller.
"So tell me what was recorded in the notebook," he asked. "Information different from Lars Nelle's published material?"
"I told you, I don't know anything about a notebook." Hansen grabbed the mug and savored another gulp. "But knowing Lars, I doubt he told the world everything in those books."
"And what was it he concealed?"
A sly smile came to the Dane's lips. "As if you don't already know. But I assure you, I have no idea. I only know what I read in Lars's books."
"I wouldn't assume anything, if I were you."
Hansen seemed unfazed. "So tell me, what's so important about that book tonight? It's not even about Rennes-le-Chateau."
"It is the key to everything."
"How could a nothing book, more than a hundred and fifty years old, be the key to anything?"
"Many times it's the simplest of things that are most important."
Hansen reached for his cigarette. "Lars was a strange man. I never could figure him out. He was obsessed with the whole Rennes thing. He loved the place. Even bought a house there. I went once. Dreary."
"Did Lars say if he found anything?"
Hansen appraised him again with a suspicious glare. "Like what?"
"Don't be coy. I'm not in the mood."
"You must know something or you wouldn't be here." Hansen bent down to balance the cigarette back onto the ashtray. But his hand kept going, straight into an open drawer in the side table, and a gun appeared. One of de Roquefort's men kicked the pistol from the book dealer's grip.
"That was foolish," de Roquefort said.
"Screw you," Hansen spat out, rubbing his hand.
The radio clipped to de Roquefort's waist crackled in his ear, and a voice said, "A man is approaching." A pause. "It's Malone. Coming straight for the shop."
Not unexpected, but perhaps it was time to send a clear message that this was not Malone's affair. He caught the attention of his two subordinates. They advanced and again seized Peter Hansen by the arms.
"Deceit has a price," de Roquefort said.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Someone you should not have toyed with." De Roquefort made the sign of the cross. "May the Lord be with you."
MALONE SAW LIGHTS IN THE THIRD-FLOOR WINDOWS. THE STREET in front of Hansen's bookshop was empty. Only a few parked cars lined the dark cobbles, which he knew would all be gone by morning, when shoppers once again invaded this part of the pedestrians-only Stroget.
What had Stephanie said earlier when she'd been inside Hansen's shop? My husband said you were a man who could find the unfindable. So Peter Hansen was apparently connected to Lars Nelle, and that former association would explain why Stephanie had sought out Hansen, rather than coming to him. But it did not answer the multitude of other questions Malone possessed.
Malone had never met Lars Nelle. He died about a year after Malone joined the Magellan Billet, at a time when he and Stephanie were just getting to know one another. But he'd subsequently read all of Nelle's books, which were mixtures of history, fact, conjecture, and grand coincidence. Lars was an international conspiratorialist who'd thought the region of southern France known as the Languedoc harbored some sort of great treasure. Which was partly understandable. The area had long been the land of troubadours, a place of castles and crusades, where the legend of the Holy Grail was first born. Unfortunately, Lars Nelle's work had not generated any serious scholarship. Instead, his theories only stirred the interest of new age writers and independent filmmakers who expanded on his original premise, ultimately proposing theories that ranged from extraterrestrials, to Roman plunder, to the hidden essence of Christianity itself. Nothing, of course, had ever been proven or found. But Malone was certain the French tourist industry loved the speculation.
The book Stephanie had tried to buy at the Roskilde auction was titled Pierres Gravees du Languedoc. Inscribed Stones of the Languedoc. An odd title on an even odder subject. What relevance could it have? He knew that Stephanie had always been unimpressed with her husband's work. That dispute was the number one problem in their marriage and eventually led to a continental separation--Lars living in France, she in America. So what was she doing in Denmark eleven years after his death? And why were others intent on interfering with her--even to the point of dying?
He kept walking and tried to organize his thoughts. He knew Peter Hansen would not be glad to see him, so he told himself to choose his words carefully. He needed to placate the idiot and learn what he could. He'd even pay if he had to.
Something burst from one of the top-floor windows in Hansen's building.
He stared up as a body ejected headfirst, flipped in midair, then slammed onto the bonnet of a parked car.
He raced forward and saw Peter Hansen. He tried for a pulse. Faint.
Amazingly, Hansen opened his eyes.
"Can you hear me?" he asked Hansen.
Something whizzed by close to his head and Hansen's chest lurched upward. Another swoosh and the skull ripped apart, blood and sinew splattering his jacket.
He whirled around.
In the shattered window three floors above, a man with a gun stood. The same man in the leather jacket who'd started the shooting in the cathedral--the one intent on assaulting Stephanie. In the instant it took the shooter to re-aim, Malone leaped behind the car.
More bullets rained down.
The pop of each shot was muffled, like hands clapping. A sound-suppressed weapon. One bullet pinged off the hood next to Hansen. Another shattered the windshield.
"Mr. Malone. This affair does not concern you," the man said from above.
He wasn't going to stay around and debate the point. He crouched low and used the parked cars as shields while working his way down the street.
More shots, like pillows fluffing, tried to find a way through metal and glass.
Twenty yards away, he glanced back. The face disappeared from the window. He stood and ran, turning at the first corner. He rounded another, trying to use the labyrinth of streets to his advantage, stacking buildings between him and his pursuers. Blood pounded in his temples. His heart thumped. Damn. He was back in the game.
He stopped a moment and gulped in the cool air.
Running footsteps were approaching from behind. He wondered if his pursuers knew their way around the Stroget. He had to assume they did. Around another corner and more darkened shops encased him. Tension built in his stomach. He was running out of options. Ahead was one of the district's many open squares, a fountain churning in the center. All the cafes lining its perimeter were closed for the night. No one was in sight. Hiding places here would be in short supply. Across the empty expanse rose a church. A faint glow was evident through darkened stained-glass windows. In summer, Copenhagen's churches were all left open to midnight. He needed a place to hide, at least for a while. So he raced across to its marble portal.
The lock clicked open.
He shoved the leadened door inward, then closed it gently, hoping his pursuers wouldn't notice.
Scattered incandescent fixtures lit the empty interior. An impressive altar and sculpted statues cast ghostly images through the sullen air. He searched the darkness toward the altar and spotted stairs and a pallid glow from below. He headed for it and descended, a cold cloud of worry filling him.
An iron gate at the bottom opened into a three-naved wide space with a low vaulted ceiling. Two stone sarcophagi topped with immense slabs of carved granite stood in the center. The only break in the darkness came from a tiny amber light near a small altar. This seemed like a good place to park for a while. He couldn't go back to his shop. They certainly knew where he lived. He told himself to calm down, but his momentary relief was shattered by a door opening above. His gaze shot to the top of the vault not three feet from the crown of his head.
Two sets of footsteps bounded across the floor above.
He moved deeper into the shadows. His mind filled with a familiar panic, which he suppressed with a wave of self-control. He needed something to defend himself with, so he searched the darkness. In an apse twenty feet away he spotted an iron candelabrum.
He crept over.
The ornament stood about five feet tall, a solitary wax candle, about four inches thick, rising from its center. He removed the candle and tested the metal stem. Heavy. With the candelabrum in hand, he tiptoed across the crypt and took up a position behind another pillar.
Someone started down the steps.
He peered past the tombs, through the blackness, his body alive with an energy that had always, in the past, clarified his thoughts.
At the base of the stairs appeared the silhouette of a man. He carried a gun, a sound suppressor at the end of the barrel distinctive even in shadow. Malone tightened his grip on the iron stem and cocked his arm. The man was moving toward him. His muscles tensed. He silently counted to five, clenched his teeth, then swung the candelabrum and caught the man square in the chest, propelling the shadow back onto one of the tombs.
He tossed the iron aside and swung his fist into the man's jaw. The pistol flew away and rattled across the floor.
His attacker went down.
He searched for the gun as another set of footsteps bounded into the crypt. He found the pistol and locked his hand on the grip.
Two shots came in his direction.
Dust snowed down from the ceiling as bullets found stone. He dove for the nearest pillar and fired. A muffled retort sent a shot through the darkness, ricocheting off the far wall.
The second attacker stopped his advance, taking up a position behind the farther tomb.
Now he was trapped.
Between him and the only way out was an armed man. The first pursuer was starting to come to his feet, groaning from the blows. Malone was armed, but the odds weren't good.
He stared through the dimly lit chamber and readied himself.
The man rising from the floor suddenly collapsed back down.
A few seconds passed.
One set of footsteps echoed from above. Then the church door opened and closed. He did not move. The stillness was unnerving. His gaze raked the darkness. No movement anywhere.
He decided to risk it and crept forward.
The first assailant lay sprawled on the floor. The other man was likewise prone and still. He checked both men for pulses. Beating, but weak. Then he spotted something at the back of one of the necks. He bent close and plucked out a small dart, the tip a half-inch needle.
His savior was privy to some sophisticated equipment.
The two men lying on the floor were the same two from outside the auction earlier. But who'd disabled them? He bent back down and retrieved both guns, then searched the bodies. No identification on either. One man wore a radio beneath his jacket. He removed the unit along with the earpiece and microphone.
"Anyone there?" he said into the mike.
"And who is this?"
"You the same man that was in the cathedral? The one who just killed Peter Hansen."
He realized no one was going to say much over an open channel, but the message was clear. "Your men are down."
"Wish I could take credit. Who are you?"
"That's not relevant to our discussion."
"How was Peter Hansen a problem for you?"
"I detest those who deceive me."
"Obviously. But somebody just caught your two guys by surprise. I don't know who, but I like them."
No response. He waited a moment more and was about to speak when the radio crackled. "I trust you will take advantage of your good fortune and go back to selling books."
The other radio clicked off.